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Adam Smith and Confucius: A Tour D'Horizon Towards a Transcultural Foundation of Institutions


Carsten Herrmann-Pillath


Max Weber Center for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies; Max Weber Centre for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies, University of Erfurt

February 27, 2007

Fudan Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences, Vol. 3, No. 3, pp. 91-126, 2010

Abstract:     
Recently, economists have re-discovered the fact of the cultural embeddedness of institutions. This raises the question whether there are transcultural universals of institutions and institutional design. The paper proposes that such universals cannot possibly be empirical givens, but have to be continuously created through transcultural discourse. I take a first step by putting family resemblances in the moral and social philosophy of Adam Smith and the Conficians into the context of the evolution of Western culture and economics. The tour d'horizon starts with the thesis that the biased perception of Smith (neglecting the moral philosopher) in economics mirrors its cultural embeddedness into what sociologist Norbert Elias has called the homo clausus construct in Western societies. I continue with a survey of most recent research in behavioral, institutional, and evolutionary economics which clearly prove the fallacies of the homo clausus assumptions of individual autonomy. This explains the recent revival of interest in the Theory of Moral Sentiments on part of economists. Indeed, many Smithian insights can be supported by the recent advances in economic research. One fascinating implication is that opening up a transcultural discourse between Western and Eastern moral philosophy might show the way towards a transcultural foundation of institutions. A number of family resemblances between Smith and Confucius are presented. I conclude by highlighting some contentious issues between China and the West in the global economy, where the transition to a moral economy with Smithian and Confucian foundations might help to find workable solutions.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 27

Keywords: Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments, behavioral and experimental economics, institutional convergence in the global economy, cultural embeddedness of economics, Confucianism

JEL Classification: A13, B00, B31, Z10

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Date posted: February 28, 2007 ; Last revised: November 13, 2011

Suggested Citation

Herrmann-Pillath, Carsten, Adam Smith and Confucius: A Tour D'Horizon Towards a Transcultural Foundation of Institutions (February 27, 2007). Fudan Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences, Vol. 3, No. 3, pp. 91-126, 2010. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=966033

Contact Information

Carsten Herrmann-Pillath (Contact Author)
Max Weber Center for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies ( email )
Am Huegel 1
Erfurt 99084
Germany
Max Weber Centre for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies, University of Erfurt ( email )
Nordhäuserstrasse 74
Erfurt, 900221
Germany
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